Lights and shadows, old and new

Chris Harrison, director of J.G Harrison & Sons Ltd. discusses some of the options available to self-builders when specifying lighting

When embarking on a comprehensive lighting design for a cutting-edge new build, budding developers can experience a heady combination of excitement and dread. On the face of it, the options are endless with such a blank canvas, but this can be quite daunting. The best chance to get lighting right needs to be before any decoration is undertaken so it has to be right first time.

Extreme schemes can have an amazingly striking visual impact, but beyond the initial wow factor, they can prove hard to live with on a day-to-day basis and can also be off-putting for future purchasers.

The polar opposite preferences for ultramodern schemes to extenuate minimalism and more faux traditional and classic installations designed to bring greater character and a feeling of heritage to new builds endures. But increasingly, domestic developers are opting for an eclectic blending, a deliberate juxtaposition even, of cutting-edge and traditional lighting schemes which can create or enhance practical modern minimalism in task areas such as kitchens and bathrooms, while contributing greatly to the creation of softer, relaxing, even romantic ambiances in dining areas, family rooms, lounge areas and especially bedrooms.

A vintage or a reclaimed look contrasting strongly with its surroundings in a brand new building, can look amazing but certainly, so does uber cool, futuristic lighting. Decisions of this nature are of course purely subjective – there is no clear cut right and wrong. But when a lighting plan comes together living in that space can be a joy and when it doesn’t, it can be quite a jarring experience.

Getting the balance right when mixing the old with the new can work fantastically. Vital to success is planning well ahead to create the perfect level of light throughout the property with the best possible positioning to create highly flexible, layers of lighting for shadow free task areas, and definition and drama for mood and feature areas.

Low energy future

No matter what style of lighting scheme being opted for, energy consumption must be a significant consideration for all developers all new builds these days, not just to save money but actually to meet regulatory stipulations. The ways in which ‘low energy layers’ can be achieved have thankfully increased so significantly over the last couple of years with the sudden evolution and aesthetic versatility of cost-saving low energy LED lighting. Early energy saving bulbs were quite visually offensive and therefore were hugely restrictive with most users having to find ways to hide them from view. But now there are numerous shapes and styles of LEDS available which are attractive to look at, come in warm or cool tones and very importantly are very successfully dimmable.

Hot and cold

Developers tend to opt for cool white LEDS when they want to achieve a contemporary look in a task area as they compliment high-gloss kitchens. This is especially good with the current trend for grey kitchens, lifting battleship grey to a cool, soft and chic grey. They work fantastically behind splash backs and under units and in central pendants over islands.

Warm whites are often chosen by developers looking to soften the stark lines and the look of sharp unforgiving edges or warm up dull corners in what can sometimes initially feel like a featureless new build.

Smoothly dimmable

The dimmable versatility of the new LEDS is fast becoming one of their most well regarded features. With a tiny hand-held remote control, a smart phone (or even a universal tv remote), the ambience can be changed instantly without anyone even having to get up. Lights change smoothly and softly fading on or off, in an unobtrusive manner.

As well as making everything look good, some specialist dimmers save energy and increase the life of lamps too, so they are friendlier to the environment and to a domestic developers’ long-term budget. Dimming by 10 per cent will save 10 per cent on an energy bill, and the lamp will last twice as long. Dimming by 50 per cent saves 40 per cent electricity and increases the life of a lamp by 20 times.

Lighting each and every room with different layers and levels gives more flexibility for different activities in the same room. By installing the latest dimmer technology that can have up to 10 pre-programmable scene settings in their new build, developers can create a home that almost seems to intuitively reflects their routines. So the cooking experience can segway into dining lighting seamlessly in open plan living areas, for example.

Dimming the lights is the way to achieve cosy, romantic effects from the living room to the master bedroom. At the touch of a button, you can transform your living room in to a snuggly cinema room, or upgrade your bedroom to a romantic haven with flattering mood lighting.

Floating elements/ furniture

If uber modern is the way a developer is leaning, light can be used behind shelves, headboards or in false ceiling to give structure and interest to an otherwise flat surface. By doing so, furniture can be made to appear to be floating in space – quite futuristic looking. This effect can add a stunning focal point to a room, providing a soft wash of light over of the floor, and therefore softening hard angles and surfaces. This type of lighting, takes up no floor space so is ideal in today’s smaller footprint properties.

Lighting niches

Lighting in purpose-made niches adds an extra dimension to a space, and provides depth, texture and drama in otherwise bland spaces. The narrowest beam can create a dramatic pool of light to illuminate single objects in an alcove space or over a dining table. They can be lit from below or above, and will create a platform to highlight an object, plant or furniture if big enough. They are often used in bathrooms, behind the toilet or either side of the sink.

Lighting in stairs

Low level LED floor washers are practical for night lighting consuming minimal electricity, without risk of overheating, so are an understated way to light stairs. They can be very compact and either square, round or drop shaped. Warm white is best suited for low level lighting to render true floor colours when lit.

With such a blank canvas there really are endless ways to either play up the modernity of your new build or add a sense of aged character and cosiness, but as mentioned at the beginning of the article, it needn’t be so daunting. It should be invigorating, empowering even. It is a creative opportunity to create an unified harmonious marriage of contradictions, where even a hammered metal lamp with a distressed finish looks enhanced next to a glossy white modern table with sleek modern chairs. The juxtaposition and contrast of old and new within the same new build or even the same room, can actually create an environment that’s respectful of the old while at the same time allowing the new to speak for itself and thus enhance and enrich the entire design statement.